Although random mass shootings have been the subject of media attention and the cause of political controversy throughout the past few years, they actually comprise a small fraction of the murders committed in the United States, a study from the Congressional Research Service claims.
The Congressional Research Service’s report found that 78 public mass shootings have occurred in the United States throughout the past 30 years. According to Bloomberg, the organization defines a mass shooting as an incident “in which four or more people were killed at random by a gunman killing indiscriminately.” It excludes crimes in which a clear motive is determined, such as gang-related or domestic shootings. According to those guidelines, mass shootings account for less than one tenth of one percent of the 559,347 people murdered in the United States over the past thirty years.
Public shootings may only account for a small percentage of murders committed in the United States, but they still have a significant impact on society. Media coverage of such shootings tends to be extensive, as was the case with the country’s most recent tragedies: the Newtown, CT elementary school shooting, the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting, and the recent mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. These high-profile mass killings tend to have a larger effect on societal debate and push for action.
After last year’s shooting in Newton, for instance, President Obama vocalized his support for stricter gun-control laws. Connecticut, New York and Maryland all passed laws limiting access to assault weapons, and similar legislative action began in at least seventeen other states. Many states, on the other hand, have loosened gun-control restrictions since the recent shootings have sparked debate on the issue of 2nd amendment rights.
Mass shootings have also had an effect at the local level. According to Peter Blair, the director of research at the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Program at Texas State University in San Marcos, police departments are increasingly trained how to respond to a mass shooting. Officers used to be required to establish a perimeter around areas such as schools and wait for backup when a gunman was inside. That approach has changed. “Police policies around the country now authorize officers to go in solo,” Blair said.
Yesterday’s shooting in the Washington Naval Yard, which resulted in the death of at least 12 people, received similar media attention to previous mass shootings. As details of the incident unfold, so will societal and political debate on the issue of gun-control.